Dum Dum Girls stay true to passion
Dee Dee Penny reflects on creating personal guitar pop
After six years, Dum Dum Girls, the highly personal guitar-pop project fronted by Dee Dee Penny, has drawn staying power from consistently catchy songwriting and incorporating atmospheric post-punk influences. In January, the group released its third studio album, Too True (Sub Pop), and it's full of Penny's moody vocals, synth production from former Brill Building songwriter Richard Gottehrer ("My Boyfriend's Back," "Hang on Sloopy"), and the most emotionally powerful songwriting to date. Before Dum Dum Girls' tour makes its way to Atlanta, Penny (Kristin Welchez) talked to CL about playing guitar in a male-dominated genre, being married to another musician (Brandon Welchez of Crocodiles), and her ever-present stage fright.
Too True moves from the lo-fi West Coast sound of previous albums to an '80s-tinged sound. Is that producer Richard Gottehrer's influence?
I wouldn't describe anything that I've recorded past my first few albums as West Coast, especially with access to a recording studio and people that know what they're doing. That was a big, liberating step for me. I've tried to take advantage of these things that can really take the record to the next level. Gottehrer came on board for the first record, I Will Be. I recorded the songs myself and had a MySpace at the time. He loved my cover of Sonny & Cher's "Baby Don't Go," and that piqued his interest. I was nervous, since his résumé is so impressive. He's an encyclopedia of so many key moments of music history, and he's so unjaded. It's shocking to me that he still has this love and lust for life. Besides his musical talents, it's why I'll keep him around.
Do you feel like Too True is a pop album?
I've always tried to write pop songs. I've always tried to produce my record in that way, and the idea of being able to communicate on a larger scale has always appealed to me. As I've become more comfortable and more confident in my songwriting and recording, I've tried to not engage with the negative backlash that's inevitable. I've become more comfortable writing things that reflect who I am.
I used to have debilitating stage fright. I still have moments of that, especially during TV performances. It's uncharted territory, and I've only done it about three times. Playing on %22Late Show with David Letterman%22 was unreal, since I grew up watching Letterman.
What's it like being married to another touring musicians?
It's complicated to coordinate, obviously. The indie music world isn't set up to be conducive for joint touring, so we have pretty combative schedules. What we do is so weird compared to what most people do, so I'm glad that my partner understands what my life is like and vice versa. Nine months out of the year, I'm not home, but we've sort of figured out how to make it work.
Are there still limitations for women-fronted rock bands?
Oh, yeah. My personal experience was that when I started, I wanted to see what being a part of that female tradition would be like. As much as it's been a political thing, it's been a personal thing. My focus is on the music.
We've been championed as a female band, we've been insulted, we've been cut down. Female bands have been the token bands. I've generally loved them. There's an attitude and aesthetic to them that I love. It's kind of a tired category, and I know that it took me a long time to get to a place where I wanted to do it on my own. I'm trying to set an example not just for young girls, but for young people in general.